Sunday Discussion: Why Do Certain Movies Flop?
Last week I ran across SlashFilm's article about an animated film titled Delgo that was being called the biggest flop of all-time. At first I thought this was just what people were calling it due to its complete box office failure, but I followed a link to a chart that Box Office Mojo had put together. This chart was one of a few in the Worst Wide Openings category organized by the number of theaters each film played in. I spent the next hour going over the flops and failures, as it was fascinating going through them. And instead of just linking to the chart, I wanted to actually put down my thoughts on what I had discovered.
First off, Box Office Mojo is one of my favorite sites that deserves to be recognized for their brilliance, though I'm sure I don't need to tell you that anymore considering they were just bought by IMDb. Anyway, this Worst Openings Ever chart brings up so many interesting aspects regarding the makings of a flop. I'm sure by linking this chart I've already lost readers because, just like me, they're going to spend the rest of the afternoon reading through every last list and looking at the detailed box office analysis of every last movie. Yet another reason why I love Box Office Mojo so much.
Getting to the topic of why movies flop, let's take look at some movies from this list. Delgo is an interesting story of its own, and if you're curious to learn more about it, head over to SlashFilm. I'm also not going to address the marketing side of things because that deserves an article of its own one day when I'm not relaxing during this holiday season. However, I'm going to reference a few of this year's big flops, like Deception, The Rocker, and Walk Hard. And if you spend just a few minutes picking out the films you know and asking yourself why they did so bad, I'm sure you'll have some things to say as well.
The one I want to mention the most is Deception. You might not recognize the title, which is already an interesting issue, so how about the cast - Ewan McGregor, Hugh Jackman, and Michelle Williams. You're looking at a movie that starred Obi-Wan Kenobi, Wolverine, and Brokeback Mountain's Alma that came out on April 25th, 2008 and ended up in the 9th spot on the Worst Openings Ever list. First things first, that opening date can't really be used as an excuse for its failure, because only seven days later, millions of people went to the same movie theaters and gave Iron Man over $100 million of their money. While opening dates are very important to success, they can't always dictate a failure.
Another interesting point is that the cast should've made this film an instant success (or at least not as big of a failure as it was). Time and time again I hear from fellow moviegoers and industry analysts that big names and celebrities are the most important elements of a successful movie. Not only do I hear this from most of my peers, but I also hear it when I talk to less educated moviegoers about why they're interested in a particular movie. The answer almost always is because they like a particular actor or actress that's in it. So I'm confused why a film like Deception, with at least two big actors, turned out to be a huge failure?
Even The Rocker and Walk Hard also had big names - Rainn Wilson from "The Office", Christina Applegate from Anchorman, John C. Reilly from Talladega Nights, Tim Meadows from "Saturday Night Live," and so on. So what else went into making these flops if they all had big name actors? Was it bad reviews? I don't even remember seeing a review for Deception. And I would expect that comedies like The Rocker and Walk Hard to be "critic proof." Of course, marketing plays into all three of these movies, but I'm trying to find similarities between each without addressing marketing. So far I've found nothing yet, have you?
Maybe it's the story? If anything, this is probably the most important aspect of determining success and failure. So even if Deception or The Rocker was marketed well enough that everyone could identify, based on trailers and other footage, whether or not the story was worthwhile, they decided in the end that it wasn't. But wait, let's flip this around. We all know that studios can market piles of crap to the right audience and make a killing (need I mention Twilight again?). So wouldn't that even disprove this story argument? As far as I can tell, movies with bad stories and unknown casts can still end up hits as long as the studio markets them correctly and finds the right audience. But why doesn't this always work?
To be honest, I don't have the answers to these questions. If I did, I would probably be hired by a Hollywood studio tomorrow, giving them tips on how to make every last movie, no matter the cast or the story or the marketing, a huge hit. And I'm going to admit that I'm continually puzzled by some of these flops that I found on Box Office Mojo's list. Why do they do so bad? How could their failure have been prevented? Would it have been better to scrap the project from the start? Of course, some movies sound bad on paper but turn out great on screen and vice versa. So even making that harsh of a claim doesn't help.
I hate making early predictions, but I'm expecting Frank Miller's The Spirit to be this month's next big flop. First off, Christmas Day isn't the greatest day to put out a highly stylized comic book movie. Secondly, Lionsgate has done a good job marketing it, but the trailers haven't convinced everyone. And lastly, apparently Frank Miller just screwed things up and made an terrible movie, which is sad considering how classic Will Eisner's comic series is. So it seems like we have all the right answers as to why it flopped, but not how it could've been prevented. In the end, I doubt we'll ever truly figure out why movies flop.